Glass Symphony 3 etc

Aspects of Glass you probably won’t have encountered before – leaner music, more outreaching, more dangerous. But there’s plenty of his more familiar language too

Author: 
Rob Cowan
GLASS symphony no 3

GLASS Symphony 3; The CIVIL WarS Interludes; The Voyage; The Light

  • Symphony No. 3
  • (The) Civil Wars, ~, Interlude No. 1
  • (The) Civil Wars, ~, Interlude No. 2
  • (The) Voyage, Mechanical Ballet
  • (The) Light

Comparing Glass’s Third Symphony with his Second finds the forces reduced from full orchestra to strings, the overall timing reduced by virtually half and the number of movements increased from three to four. Glass No 2 is long-breathed, atmospheric and occasionally suggestive of Brucknerian vistas, whereas Glass No 3 is texturally lean and harmonically more adventurous than much of the composer’s previous work. It also seems to have taken in influences from some fairly unexpected sources.
The first movement is sombre and march-like while the second, which is built on compound meters, kicks out in all directions, switching to a gutsy staccato at 2'59''. Of course, the pulse is constant (Glass wouldn’t be Glass if that had changed) but the tone has altered, sometimes sidling nearer to Sibelius, sometimes a stone’s throw from Shostakovich. On one occasion my mind strayed to the disruptive third movement of Shostakovich’s Eighth Symphony. At the start of the brief finale, there’s even a hint of Kurt Weill (‘Anger’ from the Seven Deadly Sins), but one thing is for sure: had you played me the Symphony blind, I would never have guessed that it was by Philip Glass.
The stylistic shift from mellow, arpeggiated dreamscape (a familiar Glassian aura that holds sway for most of The Light) to a sort of ecstatic acerbity, follows through to the rest of the work. But there’s another presence – less of a surprise, perhaps – later in the long third movement when the Arvo Part of Cantus seems to join the fray (try from around 8'03'').
The idea of external influence extends to the interludes from The CIVIL WarS, where, as annotator David Wright advises us, Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker gets a look in, particularly in the Second Interlude with its pas-de-deux-like downward scales. ‘Mechanical Ballet’ (from The Voyage) and the expansive (21- minute) The Light are rather more what you’d expect from Glass: haunting narratives, always on the move yet tinged with a certain melancholy. But even if you don’t care for Glass’s more familiar ‘arpeggiated’ style (I have to say that over the years I’ve grown to like it more and more), do try the Third Symphony. It’s certainly different, and the performance is excellent.'

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